Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

Poster for Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) by #JavierAguirre
w/#PaulNaschy #RosannaYanni #VíctorBarrera

A hunchback working in a morgue falls in love with a sick woman. He goes berserk when she dies and seeks help from a scientist to bring her back from the dead.

Beware The Hunchback! A freak of nature whose crimes go beyond your wildest terrors!

#Horror #SciFi
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

I remember renting Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) on VHS back in the late ’80s or early ’90s – mainly because I thought it looked insane. I don’t think I was disappointed. This was before I’d seen movies like Bloodsucking Freaks (1976), so my bar for insanity may have been somewhat lower (or should I say higher…?) I had never heard of Paul Naschy at that point – or maybe only in passing. I was really just beginning to explore the video fringes, looking for the weirdest, most wanton and wonderful cinema ever produced… So this was probably a seminal viewing experience for me.

Having grown up watching movies like Halloween (1978), Terror Train (1980) and The Amityville Horror (1979), I was somewhat amazed and possibly even freaked out by the grungier, grimier cinema that I started to discover. I may have mentioned this when I talked about another film I saw back then called Scream Bloody Murder (1972). Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) is by no means the grungiest horror film out there, but it seemed, at the time, to be a little bit grungier than usual to me.

I liked it, but it didn’t seem like a movie I would watch over and over again like Halloween. Although, I think I saw it one more time a few years later when a friend of mine brought it over and said “Have you ever seen this?”

I’m not sure…” I answered. In reality, I was pretty sure that I had, but he can be funny about that and refuse to watch movies with me if he thinks I’ve already seen them. “If I have,” I continued, “I don’t remember much about it.” This part was true. The movie was a bit of a blur to me, and I was curious to take another look at it. So we watched it, and I think we both enjoyed it, too.

VHS tape of Human Beasts (1980)As the years went by, I read about Paul Naschy in various books and started to watch other films that he starred in – or sometimes directed. I’ve even picked up a few and added them to my collection. I bought a VHS tape called Human Beasts (1980) – which didn’t have much information on it all. It turned out to be a Paul Naschy movie called El carnaval de las bestias or Cannibal Killers – Human Beast and it was a truly mind-blowing viewing experience –  but that’s another story…

For some reason, I had never picked up a copy of Hunchback of the Morgue – until quite recently when I found a reasonably priced copy of the The Paul Naschy Collection II on Blu-ray. The very first movie in the box is Hunchback of the Morgue, and I was excited to see it again for the first time in almost 20 years…

In some ways, it reminded me of a Jean Rollin film. I’m sure that hardcore Rollin experts would cry blasphemy and punch me in the nose, but to my fairly new-to-Roillin’s-oeuvre eyes, there were some definite similarities: the gothic European atmosphere, the tragic love story involving a monster, the hypnotic pacing, the almost art-house-movie-crossed-with-exploitation-movie feel – the list goes on and on.

I think that Rollin at his best is better than this – or at least more (more artsy, more exploitative, more hypnotic – MORE). But Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) is a pretty darn satisfying viewing experience for anyone with a taste for that kind of surrealistic horror cinema. I appreciated it more now than ever before, and I’m glad to finally have it in my collection.

For those who don’t know, Paul Naschy’s real name was Jacinto Molina Alvarez, and he’s been called the king of Spanish horror. He said that Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), which he saw when he was 11, was the movie that really inspired him and perhaps started him down the path toward playing those classic monsters in his own films. He was an athlete, and was at one time the lightweight champion weightlifter of Spain. This, I’m sure, helped him later on when playing monsters with superhuman strength. One look at Naschy and you could believe it.

I’m still a relative beginner when it comes to exploring Naschy’s oeuvre. He acted in over a hundred movies, wrote 52 and directed 23. That’s a lot of #NotQuiteClassicCinema to explore – and I’ve got a long way to go before I can say I’ve seen it all. If you’re also new to Naschy’s work, and you’re looking for a good place to start, why not consider adding Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) to your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Poster for Creatures the World Forgot (1971)Creatures the World Forgot (1971) by #DonChaffey
w/ #JulieEge #TonyBonner #RobinJohn

See prehistoric love rites! See primitive chieftains duel in naked fury! See the young lovers sacrificed! See staked girl menaced by giant python! See…Creatures the World Forgot.”

They don’t make them like this anymore … not in a million years!”

#HammerHorror #Adventure #Horror #SciFi
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Creatures the World Forgot (1971) is a movie that I’d never seen before last Friday. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I suppose I had visions of One Million Years B.C. (1966) crossed with King Kong, or some other giant monster movie. It does have the word Creatures in the title, after all. Sadly, I think the creatures in this movie are simply primitive human beings. 

I suppose what Creatures the World Forgot really reminded me of was Quest for Fire (1981). Released ten years before that one, Creatures the World Forgot is a sort of precursor to it, I suppose; an early ancestor, perhaps. But it is by far the weaker of the two movies. 

When I was young, Quest for Fire was a real water fountain movie around my school. A lot of the older kids were talking about, saying it was amazing. This made me want to see it, of course, but it was restricted – no one under 18 allowed. Everyone I knew who was talking about it was under 13, so I’m not sure how they saw it (snuck in, I suppose). Some of the same people saw Scanners (1981) as well, so they were apparently accomplished sneaker-inners, or habitual liars. 

The other thing that happened around then was that Iron Maiden released a song called “Quest for Fire” – and I’m pretty sure the DJ on the radio said “If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize this…” and then dropped the needle on what I thought was a pretty awesome piece of heavy metal. I taped it off the radio as soon as I could, and listened to it over and over again. I bought the record and listened to it even more. I loved that song (and that whole album) and it made me really want to see Quest for Fire badly!

I eventually saw it, on Pay TV, I think. You were able to steal it in those days if you really knew what you were doing. Maybe I rented it on Beta, I can’t remember. In any case, it was a pretty cool movie that lived up to its reputation. One of the reasons it was such a notorious movie among 11 to13-year-old boys was that it featured some pretty graphic nudity and sex. There was action and violence, too. But I think the sex made it particularly exciting in that same way as a stolen copy of Playboy or that other water fountain movie of my youth, Porky’s (1981).

It should be noted, for those who are too young to remember or even fathom this, there was no internet back then. You could not access endless amounts of hard core pornography with a simple google search. In fact, you couldn’t even rent it or buy it in my hometown. Not in the early 1980s. It was considered obscene, and was therefore illegal. The first real Adult Video Stores didn’t appear until the 1990s, and they had a few problems staying open. In the 1980s “Adult” sections of video stores, you could rent movies like Angel of H.E.A.T. (1983) and Black Emmanualle 2 (1976), which were basically R-rated movies – not porn. But we, as teenagers, could not even rent those movies – unless someone’s older brother did it for us, but that’s another story…

Quest for Fire was great! And I watched it a few times over the years. I should mention that it currently rates a 7.3 on the IMDb, and 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. So it’s both a sleazy good time and a classy piece of art-house cinema.

Creatures the World Forgot is no Quest for Fire. It rates a 4.4 on the IMDb and doesn’t even register on Rotten Tomatoes. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but from my point of view, it’s nowhere near as good a movie as Quest for Fire

That’s not to say that Creatures the World Forgot is a complete waste of time. It has some entertainment value, and a few moments of laugh-out-loud campiness. Someone commented that it’s hard to follow, and I would have to agree with that. The story jumps forward months and years at a time. And keep in mind that there is no real dialogue to help you understand what is going on – just prehistoric grunting.

The skilled director of Quest for Fire makes this work. He manages to tell a coherent and compelling story. I don’t want to insult Don Chaffey’s directing skills. I’m sure he was a talented guy. In fact, he did a lot of television, including some classic shows like The Prisoner (1967-68), The Avengers (1961-69) and Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) – so the man deserves some respect.  But Creatures the World Forgot is clearly not his best work. 

Creatures the World Forgot (1971) is a Hammer Film, and it might be my least favourite one so far. They are usually a reliable source of high quality, highly entertaining movies. Creatures the World Forgot is just okay. It’s #NotQuiteClassicCinema that perhaps has earned it’s non-reputation. Still, it’s an acceptable time waster, and might serve as an interesting curtain raiser for Quest for Fire – at least for those who are curious enough to want to compare them. I may watch it again on some desperate #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – but it won’t be my first choice of Hammer films, or prehistoric exploitation pictures…

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969)

Poster for Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) by #AlAdamson

w/#JohnCarradine #PaulaRaymond #AlexanderDArcy #RobertDix

“HORROR BEYOND BELIEF LIES WAITING FOR ALL WHO DARE ENTER THE VAMPIRE’S DUNGEON!”

“…YOU’LL NEVER GET OUT!”

#Horror
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

By now it should be fairly obvious that I’m a fan of Al Adamson. As one of my Twitter buddies once said, “You’re either a fan, or you’re not.” And I think it’s fair to say that there are plenty of people in this world who are not. They may want to avoid Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) like the plague. Even I, as a fan of Al Adamson, have my doubts about whether this one is all that great. Al intended it to be a comedy, and as people like L.A. Morse have observed, (and I paraphrase greatly here):

“Bad movies can be hilarious and fun – but bad comedies are just bad.”

Indeed. If a comedy is funny, how can it be bad? So the term “bad comedy”, pretty much implies unfunny movie. “Bad horror film,” on the other hand, can mean get ready to laugh your ass off. At least that’s what it seemed to mean to my friends and me when we were teenagers. As an adult, I seem to have developed a way of enjoying bad movies without laughing –  but that’s another story…

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve watched Blood of Dracula’s Castle at least four times in my life. LIke all of Al Adamson’s work, it has it’s rewards. I just don’t think it’s his best work. 

One of the things that always surprises me about Blood of Dracula’s Castle, is the fact that John Carradine is in it but he doesn’t play Dracula. You’d think I’d remember that after seeing the film multiple times, but John Carradine is such a natural choice to play Dracula  – in fact, he did that twice before this (House of Dracula (1945), and House of Frankenstein (1944)) – that I always just assume that he did it for Al Adamson, too. But alas, no…

Alexander D’Arcy plays the famous vampire in this movie, and he’s kind of a charming, likeable version of the count. His wife, the Countess, is played by Paula Raymond, who has about 90 credits as an actress – including appearances on many famous TV shows. Carradine plays George, their Butler.

Blood of Dracula’s Castle is a pretty silly movie. It’s not much of a comedy, although it does provide a few laughs here and there (I’m not sure how intentional they were). It features attractive women chained to the wall in the dungeon, but it manages to be fairly light on the sleaze. It’s also pretty tame in the violence department. In spite of this, there was an alternate TV version of the movie created with new footage directed by . Not sure why they couldn’t just air the original version. It may simply be that they needed to stretch out the running time a bit. There’s really nothing too offensive in it (which may be one reason that it’s less fun that many of Al’s other movies).

Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) is most definitely #NotQuiteClassicCinema. If I’d seen it as a kid, on Not Quite Classic Theatre, I’m sure I would have thought it was the worst movie I’d ever seen. Many of the films they showed back then were really quite good. This one is not. But still, there’s a certain charm to it. And I’d like to think that it would have inspired me, the way so many of those movies did back then, by making me think “Hey, I could do better than this…”. Perhaps I would have scribbled down a bunch of ideas for my own weird, modern day Dracula story. Who knows?

As it is, it’s always seemed like a perfect second or third feature in an all night bad movie marathon. It’s unlikely to be the highlight of the night, but it just might provide some welcome relief between the edgier, more intense entries in your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Curse of the Undead (1959)

Poster for Curse of the Undead (1959)Curse of the Undead (1959) by #EdwardDein

w/ #EricFleming #MichaelPate #KathleenCrowley #JohnHoyt

“The countryside terrorized! The young and beautiful drained of life! Even the strongest man, destroyed by the unholy…”

“HIS BODY IS AN EMPTY SHELL THAT HOSTS A LUSTFUL FIEND!”

#Horror #Western
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

I had never heard of Curse of the Undead (1959) before. It’s yet another strange Western (I seem to be watching quite a few of those lately). It’s really a cross between a pretty straight ahead Western (unscrupulous cattle baron tries to force farmers off of their land) and a pretty straight ahead early Vampire story (young females are developing a life-threatening illness which leaves two strange looking puncture wounds on their neck). 

For the most part, these two ideas are kept fairly separate from each other. Curse of the Undead opens with a scene that feels like it could be right out of Dracula (1931), as family members (and other townspeople) gather around the bed of a young woman and try to figure out what on Earth could be wrong with her. It’s clearly a period piece, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that you were in the Wild West. 

The next scene is so typical of any number of Westerns from the 1940s or ’50s, that if you tuned in at precisely that moment, you would never suspect that you were watching a Horror film with vampires in it.

And the movie continues on like that, bouncing back and forth between gothic Vampire tale and gunslinging Western melodrama. You could almost spilt it into two different movies – almost, but not quite. Fortunately for me, I happen to enjoy both Westerns and Vampire movies. I can imagine that some people might prefer it if it stuck to one genre or the other. And with a name like Curse of the Undead, I suppose it should probably be vampires…

I’m okay with the weird mash-up, but I do wonder if there might have been a way to integrate the two genres a little bit more seamlessly – so that you always know that you are watching a Vampire Western (as opposed to bouncing back and forth). But on the other hand, the strange cinematic whiplash was half the fun.

I’d like to spend more time musing about this unusual movie, but like a vampire on the open prairie as dawn is about to break, I have to cut this journey short. Suffice it to say that Curse of the Undead (1959) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I will have to explore more thoroughly the next time it rises from the grave on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975)

Poster for Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975)Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) by #AndreaBianchi

w/ #EdwigeFenech #NinoCastelnuovo #FemiBenussi #SolviStubing

A fashion model dies during a botched abortion, and the people closely connected to her are murdered one by one.

#Giallo #Mystery #Thriller

#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) is a giallo, and a pretty darn fun one at that. I’ve talked about my personal history with giallos, and how I first discovered them many years ago, in a previous blog post. I would love to go into the specifics of this one, but due to the pressures of deadlines, the convergence of multiple responsibilities, and the general unexpected horrors of real life, I find myself at a loss for time, words and sanity right now. 

Suffice it to say that Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) is a an example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that really delivers the good (the goods being tons of sleazy fun and violent murder). It has been described as a cross between a giallo and a sex film, and I guess that’s pretty fair. If you enjoy giallos and sex films, you should certainly get a kick out of this one. If you don’t like giallos and/or sex films, you should probably give this one a pass – and ask yourself why you’re reading this blog. Not that it’s only about giallos and sex films, but…

Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) is a movie that I will definitely be watching again on a not too distant #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Five Bloody Graves (1969)

Poster for Five Bloody Graves (1969)Five Bloody Graves (1969) by #AlAdamson

w/ #RobertDix #ScottBrady #JimDavis #JohnCarradine #PaulaRaymond

“Lust-Mad Men and Lawless Women in a Vicious and Sensuous Orgy of Slaughter!”

“SEE: MEN FIENDISHLY TORTURED!”

“Inhuman” “Brutal” “Shocking”

#Western
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

While discussing Half Way to Hell (1960) a while back, I was already thinking about checking out this movie, Five Bloody Graves (1969). I’ve been a fan of Al Adamson for a long time, and I have quite a few of his movies in my collection – well, now I have almost everything, thanks to The Masterpiece Collection put out by Severin. But prior to that, I had collected quite a few VHS tapes and DVDs. Five Bloody Graves was not one of them. In fact, I had never seen it. 

I first heard of Five Bloody Graves when I read an article about Al Adamson’s murder in my local newspaper. I was shocked – first of all, that Al Adamson was murdered, but more so by the fact that they were talking about him in my local mainstream newspaper. I never would have seen that coming.

In that, admittedly brief, article about Al Adamson, they referred to him as a movie director who had made movies with titles like –

And then they listed a few particularly nasty sounding horror titles. I think they were trying to draw a connection between his brutal murder, and the types of movies he made. I knew all of the titles, except one: Five Bloody Graves.

I was instantly intrigued. Five Bloody Graves sounded like my kind of movie. I had no idea what it was about, but I assumed that it must be a kick-ass horror film, done only as Al Adamson could do it. I was a little surprised when I found out that it was actually a Western. I don’t want to say I was disappointed, because I had also been a fan of Westerns since I was a kid. But I couldn’t quite imagine Al Adamson making Westerns. On the other hand, I would watch anything with Al Adamson’s name on it, so this was a definite must see.

As the years passed by, I never managed to get my hands on a copy of Five Bloody Graves. I’m not sure if it was hard to come by, or if I just wasn’t looking in the right places. Needless to say, I was very pleased when I realized that I would finally be acquiring it as part of the The Masterpiece Collection

I now know that Al Adamson kind of got his start in Westerns – the first film he directed (or at least co-directed) being Half Way to Hell (1960), which I quite enjoyed. And this is what made me all the more excited to FINALLY get to see Five Bloody Graves. So, last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn I decided to do it.

Let me just say that within the first five minutes I knew that I was having a good time. I suppose a part of me had been worried that it was going to be just another forgettable B-Western (and I’ve watched far too many of those in my life). As I may have mentioned in the other post, a lot of B Westerns can be quite tedious. I don’t know why. I find them harder to take than, say, really cheap slasher films. Or really cheap horror films of any kind. So, I tend to get a bit apprehensive whenever I’m about to watch a really cheap B Western. But Five Bloody Graves put me at ease within minutes (or maybe even seconds). It may be a cheap ass B Western – but it’s an Al Adamson movie! I should have realized he could never let me down.

I won’t bother describing the plot – or really anything about Five Bloody Graves. If you’re a fan of Al Adamson, you’ll know what to expect. If you’re not, you may want to steer clear. I say “may”, because maybe you’re just a fan who hasn’t happened yet. Maybe Five Bloody Graves is the movie that could turn you into a dedicated Al Adamson admirer. In all honesty, I would say you’re probably more likely to be recruited by something like Satan’s Sadists (1969) or maybe Girls For Rent (1974), but who knows?

Five Bloody Graves (1969), like all Al Adamson movies, is undeniably #NotQuiteClassicCinema of a a very special kind (at least to me). It may not be my favourite of his movies (at least not yet), but I’m glad to have finally seen it – and I will definitely be watching it again (assuming that I don’t suddenly first meet an unexpected end like Al Adamson did) on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

Poster for Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) by #SilvioNarizzano

w/#TallulahBankhead #StefaniePowers #DonaldSutherland

A young woman is terrorized by her deceased fiancé’s demented mother who blames her for her son’s death.

She’s One Mean Mother-in-Law!
In stabbing color”

#HammerHorror #Crime #Mystery
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) is  a movie that I’ve heard mention of for years, but never seen before. 

When I was a kid, there was a TV show on every Tuesday night called Hart to Hart (1979-1984). I’m not sure how I got into it. It wasn’t about monsters, or outer space, or anything like that. It was about two well dressed rich people who stumble onto crimes each and every week. It wasn’t exactly a mystery, as we tended to know exactly what was going on. I guess you would say it was more of a thriller. Unsuspecting rich couple stumbles onto murder plot and becomes embroiled in danger, or something like that.

I suspect that it was my mom who started watching it, and I somehow followed along. In any case, I wound up watching that show every week. It starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as the rich couple who get themselves into trouble, and then somehow triumph over the bad guys and save the day. Looking back, I suspect that just about every week Stefanie Powers would scream “Jonathan!” with a look of terror on her face.

I had no idea who Stefanie Powers was before I saw Hart to Hart. She wasn’t in Star Wars (1977) or Blazing Saddles (1974), so how could I have? I had no idea that 15 years before I was watching her scream every week on TV, she had been screaming in a horror film called Die! Die! My Darling! If I could have, I’m sure I would have watched this movie. I watched everything remotely scary that came on TV back then. And if it starred someone from one of my regular TV shows, I would have been all the more excited to see it. But alas, that never happened.

In a way, Die! Die! My Darling! is a perfect precursor to Hart to Hart. It starts with a wealthy (or at least fashionable and attractive) couple driving in a fancy convertible in England (something the Harts would certainly have done – and in fact did, I think). They are engaged to be married, but the woman (played by Stefanie Powers) was engaged once before – to a man who died. She feels that she needs to go and visit his mother (played by Tallulah Bankhead). Needless to say, this doesn’t go quite as well as expected…

Stefanie Powers spends most of the running time of Die! Die! My Darling! in peril. And it’s quite an effective suspense thriller. It’s the type of story that I can often feel quite frustrated by – particularly when characters make bad choices that only make their situation worse. For the most part, Die! Die! My Darling! avoids those pitfalls. Sure, there were a couple of moments when I could have advised our heroine to so something a little bit differently, but I never felt that her choices were unbelievable. In fact, some of them were oddly similar to moments I can recall witnessing in real life.

“Don’t aggravate the psychopath,” I’ve been known to say to friends. It’s simple advice, and you’d think it was fairly obvious as well. But you’d be surprised how many people choose to say the wrong thing to the wrong person – in real life, as well as in the movies.

“I’m going to report you to the police!”

This is never a good thing to say to the psychopath. Trust me, they don’t like to hear this. Some of them get downright cranky about it. But I digress…

To be fair, Stefanie Powers doesn’t quite say that to Tallulah Bankhead – but she does speak a little too candidly at times – even after she knows it’s a bad idea. But like I said, it’s believable that she does it. 

As I may have mentioned before, Hammer made a slew of psychological horror/thrillers in the 1960. Many of them were black and white and heavily influenced by Psycho (1960) and Diabolique (1955). My personal favourite is Scream of Fear (1961). Die! Die! My Darling! seems to be a continuation of that line, but in full colour. And it’s a worthy entry in that genre.

Based on a book by , the screenplay was written by Richard Matheson – who was one of the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. I know less about the director, Silvio Narizzano, but it appears that he mainly worked in television. It’s too bad he never got to direct episodes of Hart to Hart. I think he would have been good at it.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) is another strangely classy example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema from Hammer Films. It’s perfect for a relaxed, cultured, and somewhat literary #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Lady Cocoa (1975)

Poster for Lady Cocoa (1975)Lady Cocoa (1975) by #MattCimber
w/#LolaFalana #MilliePerkins #MeanJoeGreene #JamesAWatsonJr

Released from prison to testify against a mobster, Lady C. must fight to stay alive.

Lady Coco, Miss Lady Luck, took a gamble and got stuck ’cause “Mean” Joe Greene ain’t playin’ when he goes slayin’.”

Music by #LuchiDeJesus
#Blaxploitation #Crime
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Last week, I re-watched one of the most famous and popular female-led Blaxsploitation movies of all time, Coffy (1973). It put me in the mood to check out one of the more obscure entires into the genre; one of the many films that was probably influenced by Coffy and Cleopatra Jones (1973). I have a few in my permanent collection, and it was hard to pick which one to watch. In the end, I chose the one that I could remember the least about – and that was Lady Cocoa (1975).

Lady Cocoa stars Lola Falana as a prisoner who is released (under protective custody) so she can testify against her former boyfriend, who is a Las Vegas gangster. She’s still in love with him, and may not actually be planning to testify, but she’s using the opportunity to spend 24 hours outside of the prison, having a good time. Someone, however, is trying to kill her. Could it be her gangster boyfriend? 

Lola Falana is a dancer, singer, model and actress who has appeared on television many times – including 52 episodes of The Tonight Show. She was once considered the Queen, or First Lady, of Las Vegas.

She only made a handful of movies, and Lady Cocoa was the last one until she appeared in Mad About You (1989) – not to be confused with the TV show of the same name.

Falana is great in Lady Cocoa, and it seems like it should have led to more starring roles for her, but perhaps that isn’t what she really wanted. In any case…

It seems fitting that Lady Cocoa takes place in King’s Castle Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. She stays in the hotel, plays blackjack, shops in the hotel clothing boutique and attends dinner and a show. It almost feels like advertising for the hotel/casino – and in some ways, it probably was. The movie starts with a big thank you card that includes King’s Castle.

Thank you card from Lady Cocoa (1975)

Lady Cocoa was produced and directed by Matt Cimber, who made over 20 movies in his career, including The Black 6 (1972) and The Candy Tangerine Man (1975). As a successful low budget film producer, one can imagine that he might resort to all kinds of favour trading to get his movie made – and offering publicity to a casino, hotel, and an entire town, doesn’t seem impossible.

Casting the First Lady of Las Vegas in the movie probably didn’t hurt, either.

Lady Cocoa (1975) is not the best of the female-led Blacksploitation films, but thanks to the extremely likeable Lola Falana, it’s pretty fun to watch. One thing that I like about it, is that it feels like a very accurate representation of a time and place. I doubt that the filmmakers did much to decorate the hotel – I suspect it looks pretty much exactly as it did in 1975, and I love that. 

The film feels kind of like a play for a while, as almost everything takes place in Cocoa’s hotel room. But gradually it opens up a little and we get to see more and more of the world around it. Eventually we witness a pretty crazy chase scene that may have been an attempt to give Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971) a run for their money. It doesn’t quite, but it’s pretty entertaining.

If you’re looking for top-drawer Blacksploitation action, check out one of the other films I talked about lately… Coffy (1973), Truck Turner (1974), Trouble Man (1972)…

But if you’re in the mood to sit back, relax and enjoy some mid 1970s nostalgia, then Lady Cocoa (1975) could be just the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that you are looking for. It’s perfect for a laid back, later than late #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Coffy (1973)

Poster for Coffy (1973)Coffy (1973) by #JackHill

w/ #PamGrier #BookerBradshaw #RobertDoQui #AllanArbus #SidHaig

“She had a body men would die for – and a lot of them did!”

“Coffy’ll cream ya!”

Music by #RoyAyers

#Action #Blaxploitation #Crime
#NotQuiteClassicCinema

#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

What can one say about Coffy (1973) that hasn’t been said before? It’s the movie that launched Pam Grier to stardom. It inspired other filmmakers. It’s been ripped off and spoofed. Depending on your point of view, it could either be the greatest Pam Grier movie (and possibly the greatest female-led Blacksploitation movie ever made), or it could be the worst. 

Yes, surprisingly enough, the movie is a bit divisive. I have friends who hated, hated, hated it. I also have friends who love it more than life itself. How can this be?

Coffy was, in fact, the first of the Big Four Pam Grier Blacksploitation Pictures that I ever saw. I talked about this a bit in my discussion of Sheba Baby (1975). Just to refresh your memory, the Big Four are:

Coffy, Foxy Brown (1974), Friday Foster (1975) and Sheba, Baby (1975). All four of the movies were named after the character that Grier played in the movie, and all four were available to rent in matching VHS boxes. I don’t think I realized that Coffy was the first one in the series. Somehow it just found its way into my hand on that day and I took it home. 

As I said back then, I enjoyed Coffy, so I started renting (and buying) all of the other films (including other movies Pam Grier was in, like The Big Doll House (1971), Women in Cages (1972) etc).

In some ways, Coffy is the grittiest of all the Pam Grier movies. It feels ultra low budget, and it feels edgy and sleazy. Depending on your point of view, this is either a good thing, or a bad thing. I tend to lean more toward the “good thing” side of the argument. Coffy is raw, and it is nasty. The opening sequence of the film lays it all out for the viewer. We get some graphic sleaze, and then we get a really graphic shotgun blast to the head. And if you didn’t know what kind of movie you were watching before that moment, you surely do now. 

This is a hard R revenge movie. No PG tastefulness here. And I guess this could be why some people find it distasteful. Others may simply be thrown by the very low budget feel of it.

Foxy Brown was apparently conceived of as a sequel to Coffy. They changed their minds at the last minute and made her a different character. But if you watch closely, you can tell she’s basically the same woman. There’s even a hospital scene. Coffy, as you may recall, is a nurse. Foxy Brown isn’t, but you can still almost see her being one. But I digress…

Jack Hill has claimed that the budget of Foxy Brown was the same as the budget for Coffy. I find this hard to believe, as Foxy Brown looks so much slicker. Just watch the credit sequence of each movie and ask your self which one looks more expensive. 

The point is, Coffy really feels rawer than all of the other movies. It feels like a quick and dirty production. And I like ’em that way. Just tell me a good story. Don’t waste my time making it look pretty.

But speaking of looking pretty… as someone on twitter remarked to me, Pam Grier looks amazing in this movie. She really does. It’s easy to see why she became a movie star and a cultural icon. Of course, it’s more than her looks. It’s her no nonsense, in your face, badass attitude. You really believe that she is physically, and mentally, able to do the things that she does to get revenge. She easily earns her place in the vigilante action hero hall of fame.

The only thing that I don’t understand is how Pam Grier didn’t make more than four of these movies. Sure, she made a lot of other movies – and some of those are among her best. But whey weren’t there five sequels to Foxy Brown or Coffy? Or a least a few more, similar movies? I think we could have used them. 

But, ultimately, I guess we have to simply be grateful for the movies we have. And Coffy is the one that got the ball rolling. And for that reason alone, it is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic. I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched it over the years, but I am confident when I say that I will certainly be watching it again, on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Truck Turner (1974)

Poster for Truck Turner (1974)Truck Turner (1974) by #JonathanKaplan

w/ #IsaacHayes #YaphetKotto #AlanWeeks #AnnazetteChase #NichelleNichols #ScatmanCrothers

“Skip tracer – but not the fuzz; he’s tougher”

“If you jump bail, you’re his meat.

Music by Isaac Hayes

#Action #Blaxploitation
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Truck Turner (1974), like last week’s Trouble Man (1972), is another movie that I did not see until AFTER I knew the soundtrack music. My first encounter with Truck Turner was via a two part CD compilation called MGM Soul Cinema (Volumes 1 and 2).

MGM SOul Cinema CD featuring Truck Turner (1974) vol 1MGM SOul Cinema CD featuring Truck Turner (1974) vol 2

Volume 2 featured the Main Title from Truck Turner and I loved it. it was like the theme from Shaft (1971), but more intense. No surprise, I suppose, because both soundtracks were written and performed by Isaac Hayes. Volume 1 of MGM Soul Cinema featured another song from Truck Turner called Give It To Me, which was also a highlight. 

Truth be told, the entire compilation is pretty top notch, but still…

A couple of years later I actually found the complete soundtrack to Truck Turner on CD and I bought it. I played the hell out of that thing, but still I hadn’t seen the movie. 

Finally, I tracked down a copy on DVD and bought it. And even though I had probably built the thing up in my head over the years that I’d been listening to the soundtrack, I still loved the movie the first time I watched it.

Isaac Hayes plays the titular character, and he is great in this. There’s a really solid cast all around. Yaphet Kotto, whom I’ve admired since I first saw him in Alien (1979) when I was 10 or 11, is fabulous as one of the main bad guys. But I suppose the real highlight for a lot of people is Nichelle Nichols, of Star Trek fame, playing a foul-mouthed madam (and another one of the principal baddies). She is spectacular in this movie, and is probably the most unlike her iconic image as she ever was in any of her roles. Fans of Star Trek should proceed with caution so as not to have a heart attack…

Truck Turner is about a former football player who becomes a bounty hunter. He unwittingly gets himself into a situation where a lot of people want him dead. But his old football moniker still applies; he’s Mack Truck Turner, and if you get in his way, you just might get crushed.

As the song says:

There’s some dudes in a bar,
With busted heads and broken jaws,
What hit ’em?
Truck Turner!

And yes that IS a scene in the movie. I was not disappointed to confirm that the first time I watched it. And I was thrilled to re-visit it again last week.

Truck Turner (1974) is a somewhat lesser known entry in the blaxploitation genre. It may not be iconic like Shaft or Superfly (1972). It may not be highly rated like Across 110th Street (1972).  But it’s a masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema and a personal favourite of mine. I’ve watched it three or four times over the years, and listened to the soundtrack countless times. There is no doubt in my mind that it can make any night feel like a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.